Sauropod dinosaurs exhibit the largest ontogenetic size range among terrestrial vertebrates, but a dearth of very young individuals has hindered understanding of the beginning of their growth trajectory. A new specimen of Rapetosaurus krausei sheds light on early life in the smallest stage of one of the largest dinosaurs. Bones record rapid growth rates and hatching lines, indicating that this individual weighed ~3.4 kilograms at hatching. Just several weeks later, when it likely succumbed to starvation in a drought-stressed ecosystem, it had reached a mass of ~40 kilograms and was ~35 centimeters tall at the hip. Unexpectedly, Rapetosaurus limb bones grew isometrically throughout their development. Cortical remodeling, limb isometry, and thin calcified hypertrophic metaphyseal cartilages indicate an active, precocial growth strategy.
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Research was supported by the National Science Foundation (EAR-0955716). Higher-resolution images and XRCT .mpg files are archived at MorphoBank (http://morphobank.org/permalink/?P2326).
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